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Hands-on Gear Review
Black Diamond Ahwahnee Review
Cons: Heavy for a single wall tent, awnings that allow for venting can catch wind during stormy weather, cross pole is hard to insert, doors can get in the way when open.
The Black Diamond Ahwahnee is a cool and unique single wall tent. Typically, single wall tents don't excel in warmer, moister, three-season conditions as well, as there double walled counterparts, yet this is where this model excels. It still works well for a majority of winter camping and mountaineering endeavors, but also works better than most double walled four season tents (and nearly as well as a 3 season tent for warmer or wetter summer trips). It's the best quiver-of-one tent for four season and 3 season use because of its two huge doors, significant amount of head room, and its large awnings that allow you to ventilate as long as its not too windy. This does come at a price; while the Ahwahnee is a four season tent, it isn't as good in super windy conditions because of these same awnings. Back to the niche the Ahwahnee is trying to fill, it has the most head room of any single wall tent; taller folks will appreciate its large footprint over most other options.
For years the Ahwahnee was green; for 2016 Black Diamond changed the color to yellow to make it more in line with the rest of their four season tent lineup. While all of our testing photos still use a green version, rest assured that there is no difference other than color between the green and yellow models.
RELATED: Our complete review of four season tents
Analysis and Hands-on Test Findings
Of all the 27 tents reviewed here, the Ahwahnee has the most headroom. Two six-foot (or taller) people can sit up with ease, face each other, and hang out. The tent has two poles that cross corner-to-corner, crossing once in the center. A third half-length pole supports two awnings that provide cover for ventilation in foul weather. The interior floor is 33 sq ft and provides more than adequate space for two (even two tall 6'4"+ people fit great). Two large half moon shaped doors give each person their own entrance.
The greatest selling point is that it's super versatile and just plain comfortable to hang out in, especially considering it's a single wall tent. It features a third cross pole that helps create awnings that create excellent ventilation, so long as it's not too windy. If it is too windy, the wind can catch in these vents; if it's precipitating, it becomes much less unusable. We were able to combat this problem by really paying attention to what direction we set the tent up in relation to the wind. Every tester who used the Ahwahnee absolutely loved the tent's giant doors but, because the door ends up on the ground, we had to take care not to get mud and snow on them when we entered and exited the tent.
Ease of set-up
This model is not as easy to set up as most other four season tents. Like the rest of the Black Diamond/Bibler tents, there is a little bit of a learning curve; however, with a little practice it's really not that bad, just not as easy as most others. With this contender, you have to get inside the tent, or pull one corner over yourself in order to set it up. Another small complaint, which was voiced by all testers, was the small and slightly flimsy plastic twist tie style pole clips. These are thin and harder to use than the Velcro on the Black Diamond Firstlight or Nemo Moki. which we have not reviewed. The Ahwahnee certainly wasn't as easy to set up as The Mountain Hardwear EV2, which pitches from the outside with burly plastic clips, The Hilleberg Tarra, our Top Pick award winner, and Hilleberg Jannu, our Editors' Choice award, both of which use a combination of nylon sleeve and alternating clips, have, without question, our favorite pole attachment method.
While all Bibler series tents pitch from within, we greatly favor those that pitch from the outside. There are many advantages to an external pitch: increased storm protection (rain and snow will not get in the tent), increased durability (you can't accidentally send the pole through the tent wall), and ease of setup (crawling inside to fasten clips is more difficult than standing up outside). Because most four season tents will have some snow and ice in them, at least on multi-day trips, the most serious of these issues is durability. Pitching a tent in very strong winds is challenging enough. Adding another element, inserting sharp poles into small snaps, is simply foolish. Yes, most people do it safely, but a simple error could puncture the tent wall and leave you with an expensive and time-consuming repair.
While this tent did a great job in the pouring rain, it did score lower than average in strong winds when compared to the other 27 four season tents reviewed here (but was still better than nearly all 3 season tents). The pole design, which allows it above average adaptability and versatility, is its' greatest downfall in severe winds. If oriented incorrectly, the cross pole that creates two large awnings (to help with ventilation) can collect wind like spinnakers. This design is ill suited to high winds, making the Ahwahnee great for lower 48 style four season use rather than Alaska Range type adventures.
Furthermore, if you are forced to close the doors, there are no additional vents. Unzipping the tops of the doors is the only way to manage condensation. Breathable ToddTex fabric makes this semi-successful, but other single wall models such as the Marmot Alpinist 2 and Mountain Hardwear EV2 have actual vents that combat condensation with greater success.
The Toddtext fabric means that this tent is one of the tougher models out there; as long as your tent doesn't get destroyed in a storm, the fabric will last for many years and will likely outlive many other single wall tents. We have found that the Toddtext is both more resistance to solar degradation and holds its water resistance longer than single wall tents like the Marmot Alpinist and Mountain Hardwear EV2.
This metric is where the Ahwahnee is sort of in between. It weighs 6 lb 15 oz and is heavier than all the other single wall tents, as well as a handful of some of the double wall tents. It is 1-2 pounds lighter than many other four season tents that work comparably as well in 3 season conditions.
Along with comfort and livability, this is one of the Ahwahnee's best attributes. It performs better in 3 season conditions and mild four season conditions than in burly four season expeditions. We'd take this tent alpine climbing in places like the Cascades, Tetons, Wind River Range, Canadian Rockies, backpacking or kayak camping in a second, but likely wouldn't take it on a trip up Denali or choose to use it as a base camp tent in an area where we knew it was going to get pounded.
Value and the Bottom Line
The Ahwahnee is designed to be a versatile year round tent for everything from spring backpacking, summer alpine climbing, to winter mountaineering, though it's not the best option for pure heavy duty four season use or base camping in a harsh alpine environment. It's also a little heavy for use as a pure bivy tent. It is a decent option for places like the Cascades, Sierra, and Tetons where you could encounter any conditions from cold fronts, to rain storms, to just plane sunny and nice.
Black Diamond First Light
Black Diamond Eldorado or Black Diamond I-Tent
— Ian Nicholson, Chris McNamara
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Most recent review: July 18, 2016
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